The trend for turnovers overall is a downward trend in the NFL. Fewer of them are happening. I'll be curious to see when (if ever) the plateau occurs.
If we make that a per game analysis it looks like this:
Note the 2015 was either a historical low or near a historic low for both interceptions per team per game and fumbles per team per game. So with fewer turnovers happening, it stands to reason that those that do happen tend to have a larger impact on individual games than they used to. Who is "responsible" for the majority of NFL turnovers? Quarterbacks are. Leaving aside the discussion of QBs and interceptions, let's focus on QBs and fumbles.
Quarterbacks and Fumbles
Many Hall-of-Fame QBs have had a "fumble problem" at least at some point during their careers. I define a fumble problem as fumbling ten or more times in one season (regardless of which team recovers the fumbles). I focused on starting QBs to narrow down the data set and I defined a "starting" QB as QB who started ten or more games for his team during the regular season. I also only went back to 1980 which we near the zenith for both fumbles and interceptions in the NFL - giving us 27 seasons of data. There were 137 different instances of a QB fumbling 10 or more times in those 27 seasons.
Below is a table with how often some of the more notable QBs had seasons with 10 or more fumbles (*denotes Hall-of-Fame).
|Player||Times on list|
While that's interesting, it doesn't tell us how often these guys had fumble prone seasons so that is shown in the table below. This shows the NFL career leaders in fumbles (showing QBs only) along with some of the more fumble prone QBs currently playing who are not in the top 100 all-time (yet).
|Player (age if active)||FMB||Years Active||GS||FMB/GS|
|Josh McCown (36)||63||2002-2015||57||111%|
|Robert Griffin (26)||32||2012-2015||35||91%|
|Michael Vick (35)||98||2001-2015||115||85%|
|Mark Sanchez (29)||51||2009-2015||72||71%|
|Derek Carr (25)||20||2014-2015||32||63%|
|Jay Cutler (32)||83||2006-2015||134||62%|
|Russell Wilson (27)||38||2012-2016||64||59%|
|Ryan Tannehill (27)||38||2012-2015||64||59%|
|Andrew Luck (26)||32||2012-2015||55||58%|
|Joe Flacco (31)||67||2008-2015||122||55%|
|Eli Manning (35)||98||2004-2015||183||54%|
|Aaron Rodgers (32)||62||2005-2015||119||52%|
|Philip Rivers (34)||82||2004-2015||160||51%|
|Tony Romo (35)||65||2004-2015||127||51%|
|Ben Roethlisberger (34)||80||2004-2015||169||47%|
|Tom Brady (38)||102||2000-2015||223||46%|
|Drew Brees (37)||91||2001-2015||216||42%|
|Matt Hasselbeck (40)||67||1999-2015||160||42%|
|Carson Palmer (36)||66||2004-2015||159||42%|
+ denotes HOF. FMB = fumbles. GS = Games Started
Now this is interesting. This table shows us who had a fumble problem throughout their career and who just happened to have a bad season or two. There is no sugar-coating it; Mark Sanchez has a fumble problem. In three of his four seasons as a starting QB in the NFL he has fumbled the ball 10 or more times. Andrew Luck and Derek Carr have a chance to improve their ball security (unless they are being sacked by Von Miller) because they are both in the early parts of their careers (assuming that they both have long careers). So let's look at some of the retired and soon-to-retire QBs and see When they had their fumble problem(s). Did this happen only at the beginning of their careers, i.e. could they correct this, or did this occur somewhat randomly throughout their NFL careers? This is ostensibly asking the question: "Can Mark Sanchez lessen his propensity to fumble?"
Long-term QBs who were really good at NOT fumbling
This is a list of the QBs who had "long" careers, yet only had one year with 10 or more fumbles
|Quarterback||Year of Career when they had 10 or more fumbles|
|Matt Schaub||5th - 2nd as starter|
Notice that none of these guys had their bad fumble year during their first year as a starter. Only Matt Schaub had his bad fumble year as a relatively inexperienced starting QB. So can we find an example of a QB who had a fumble problem and corrected it? Let's focus on some of the individual QBs and see.
We don't have to move very far down the list to find one, Tony Romo. He fumbled the ball 32 times in his first 39 starts. In his next 88 starts he only fumbled the ball 33 times - effectively cutting his fumble rate in half. Alex Smith is another example. He fumbled 21 times in his first 23 starts, but has only fumbled 39 more times during his last 98 starts.Tom Brady had a bad problem with fumbles during his first three years starting, which he has corrected for the most part although he had a bad fumble season in his 6th and 12th years as an NFL starting QB. Brady fumbled the ball 36 times in his first 46 starts. In his next 187 starts he has only fumbles 66 times. In his 2012 season where he started all 16 games he only fumbled twice. Interestingly enough there are some QBs who have gotten worse later in their career as opposed to better. During his time in Poxboro, Bledsoe only fumbled 68 times in 123 starts. After leaving the "home of the deflated balls", Bledsoe fumbled 55 times in his remaining 70 NFL starts - including 17 times to lead the league in fumbles in 2005 in Dallas. Another has gotten worse as his career progressed is Matthew Stafford. He only fumbled 17 times in his first 45 starts. He has fumbled 26 times in his last 48 starts including leading the league with 12 fumbles in 2013. So there is a precedent for QBs getting better at holding onto the ball and for QBs getting worse. Let's hope that if Mark Sanchez is our starter this season, he will fumble less than he has during his first four years as a full-time starting QB in the NFL.